Starkville woman turns 103

103-year-old Ethel Wilson holds her wedding photo from 1941 of her and her late husband Arlie Wilson. (Photo by Mary Rumore, SDN)
Staff Writer

Starkville resident Ethel Wilson celebrated another year in the century club on her 103rd birthday Tuesday.

Wilson was born April 17, 1915 in Iowa, where she was raised, and then attended Iowa State University and received a degree in foods and nutrition. She worked as an assistant dietitian in the women’s dormitory at Iowa State, where she met her husband, Mississippi native Arlie Wilson, while he was there doing graduate studies.

The pair went on their first date to a military circus, and they married August 30, 1941, right before his service in the U.S. Public Health Service, a branch of the Army.

“Grandpa was in the military, and during World War II they lived all over,” Wilson’s granddaughter Mardi Hasson said. “They lived in New York, Florida, Arkansas.”

World War II was not the only historical event Wilson has seen in her lifetime. “When I got out of high school, it was in the early 30’s in the Great Depression,” Wilson said. “You couldn’t get a job anywhere. There was no money to get jobs and times were so tough.”

The Wilsons moved to Starkville from Iowa in 1948, also exposing Wilson to the civil rights issues of the time that she was not accustomed to.

“It was a three-day trip from Iowa down here down on the bus,” Wilson said. “We stopped in St. Louis. As I came farther south, I saw separation of the blacks and whites. The bus station had separate bathrooms, and I had just never seen that before.”

Wilson and her husband lived on Mississippi State’s campus, where Arlie taught entomology, in an apartment where Davis Wade Stadium is located now. The family built a house in Starkville in 1950 where Wilson still lives to this day.

Wilson has two daughters, two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. After having children, Wilson stayed at home to raise her family.

“She and Grandpa were always interested in what their grandchildren were doing, and they always had time to listen,” Hasson said.

Dustin Ebers, Wilson’s grandson, said what stands out the most to him about his grandmother is family trips together and visiting his grandparents in Starkville.

“My Grandpa and Grandmother loved to travel and always wanted to get the whole family together and take a trip,” Hasson said. “That was always a really big deal every few years.”

Wilson said her most memorable trip was to Oberammergau, Germany, to see the Passion Play.

“That was a really big trip to Europe, because we went through London, Switzerland, and in Switzerland we went on the railroad to the upper levels of the mountains in the snow,” Wilson said.

Wilson said they went on another trip to Australia for an international meeting of entomologists. On that trip, they went through Hawaii and Japan.

“In Hong Kong we had some clothes made,” Wilson said. “A tailor would sew them. One day they would measure you, and the next day you’d go in there and they’d have it all finished.”

Not all of the Wilsons’ travels were international, and they loved to camp. They travelled across the country and camped in a tent, moving up to a popup camper and later a mobile home.

The Wilsons collected pennants from many of the destinations of their travels, all of which are still hanging on a wall in her basement.

Along with still living in her own home of over 60 years, Wilson also continued to drive on her own until she was 99.

“It’s really impressive to see someone driving into their late nineties like that,” Ebers said.